Archive for unbiasedness

re-reading Halmos (1946)

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , on May 16, 2020 by xi'an

Based on a (basic) question on X validated, I re-read Halmos‘ (1946) famous paper on the non-existence of centred moments of order larger than the sample size. While the exposition may sound a wee bit daunting, the reasoning is essentially based on a recursion and the binomial theorem, since expanding the kth power leads to lesser moments, all of which can be estimated from a subsample.

unbiased MCMC discussed at the RSS tomorrow night

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2019 by xi'an

The paper ‘Unbiased Markov chain Monte Carlo methods with couplings’ by Pierre Jacob et al. will be discussed (or Read) tomorrow at the Royal Statistical Society, 12 Errol Street, London, tomorrow night, Wed 11 December, at 5pm London time. With a pre-discussion session at 3pm, involving Chris Sherlock and Pierre Jacob, and chaired by Ioanna Manolopoulou. While I will alas miss this opportunity, due to my trip to Vancouver over the weekend, it is great that that the young tradition of pre-discussion sessions has been rekindled as it helps put the paper into perspective for a wider audience and thus makes the more formal Read Paper session more profitable. As we discussed the paper in Paris Dauphine with our graduate students a few weeks ago, we will for certain send one or several written discussions to Series B!

unbiased estimators that do not exist

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2019 by xi'an

When looking at questions on X validated, I came across this seemingly obvious request for an unbiased estimator of P(X=k), when X~B(n,p). Except that X is not observed but only Y~B(s,p) with s<n. Since P(X=k) is a polynomial in p, I was expecting such an unbiased estimator to exist. But it does not, for the reasons that Y only takes s+1 values and that any function of Y, including the MLE of P(X=k), has an expectation involving monomials in p of power s at most. It is actually straightforward to establish properly that the unbiased estimator does not exist. But this remains an interesting additional example of the rarity of the existence of unbiased estimators, to be saved until a future mathematical statistics exam!

the [not so infamous] arithmetic mean estimator

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2018 by xi'an

“Unfortunately, no perfect solution exists.” Anna Pajor

Another paper about harmonic and not-so-harmonic mean estimators that I (also) missed came out last year in Bayesian Analysis. The author is Anna Pajor, whose earlier note with Osiewalski I also spotted on the same day. The idea behind the approach [which belongs to the branch of Monte Carlo methods requiring additional simulations after an MCMC run] is to start as the corrected harmonic mean estimator on a restricted set A as to avoid tails of the distributions and the connected infinite variance issues that plague the harmonic mean estimator (an old ‘Og tune!). The marginal density p(y) then satisfies an identity involving the prior expectation of the likelihood function restricted to A divided by the posterior coverage of A. Which makes the resulting estimator unbiased only when this posterior coverage of A is known, which does not seem realist or efficient, except if A is an HPD region, as suggested in our earlier “safe” harmonic mean paper. And efficient only when A is well-chosen in terms of the likelihood function. In practice, the author notes that P(A|y) is to be estimated from the MCMC sequence and that the set A should be chosen to return large values of the likelihood, p(y|θ), through importance sampling, hence missing somehow the double opportunity of using an HPD region. Hence using the same default choice as in Lenk (2009), an HPD region which lower bound is derived as the minimum likelihood in the MCMC sample, “range of the posterior sampler output”. Meaning P(A|y)=1. (As an aside, the paper does not produce optimality properties or even heuristics towards efficiently choosing the various parameters to be calibrated in the algorithm, like the set A itself. As another aside, the paper concludes with a simulation study on an AR(p) model where the marginal may be obtained in closed form if stationarity is not imposed, which I first balked at, before realising that even in this setting both the posterior and the marginal do exist for a finite sample size, and hence the later can be estimated consistently by Monte Carlo methods.) A last remark is that computing costs are not discussed in the comparison of methods.

The final experiment in the paper is aiming at the marginal of a mixture model posterior, operating on the galaxy benchmark used by Roeder (1990) and about every other paper on mixtures since then (incl. ours). The prior is pseudo-conjugate, as in Chib (1995). And label-switching is handled by a random permutation of indices at each iteration. Which may not be enough to fight the attraction of the current mode on a Gibbs sampler and hence does not automatically correct Chib’s solution. As shown in Table 7 by the divergence with Radford Neal’s (1999) computations of the marginals, which happen to be quite close to the approximation proposed by the author. (As an aside, the paper mentions poor performances of Chib’s method when centred at the posterior mean, but this is a setting where the posterior mean is meaningless because of the permutation invariance. As another, I do not understand how the RMSE can be computed in this real data situation.) The comparison is limited to Chib’s method and a few versions of arithmetic and harmonic means. Missing nested sampling (Skilling, 2006; Chopin and X, 2011), and attuned importance sampling as in Berkoff et al. (2003), Marin, Mengersen and X (2005), and the most recent Lee and X (2016) in Bayesian Analysis.

unbiased consistent nested sampling via sequential Monte Carlo [a reply]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2018 by xi'an

Rob Salomone sent me the following reply on my comments of yesterday about their recently arXived paper.

Our main goal in the paper was to show that Nested Sampling (when interpreted a certain way) is really just a member of a larger class of SMC algorithms, and exploring the consequences of that. We should point out that the section regarding calibration applies generally to SMC samplers, and hope that people give those techniques a try regardless of their chosen SMC approach.
Regarding your question about “whether or not it makes more sense to get completely SMC and forego any nested sampling flavour!”, this is an interesting point. After all, if Nested Sampling is just a special form of SMC, why not just use more standard SMC approaches? It seems that the Nested Sampling’s main advantage is its ability to cope with problems that have “phase transition’’ like behaviour, and thus is robust to a wider range of difficult problems than annealing approaches. Nevertheless, we hope this way of looking at NS (and showing that there may be variations of SMC with certain advantages) leads to improved NS and SMC methods down the line.  
Regarding your post, I should clarify a point regarding unbiasedness. The largest likelihood bound is actually set to infinity. Thus, for the fixed version of NS—SMC, one has an unbiased estimator of the “final” band. Choosing a final band prematurely will of course result in very high variance. However, the estimator is unbiased. For example, consider NS—SMC with only one strata. Then, the method reduces to simply using the prior as an importance sampling distribution for the posterior (unbiased, but often high variance).
Comments related to two specific parts of your post are below (your comments in italicised bold):
“Which never occurred as the number one difficulty there, as the simplest implementation runs a Markov chain from the last removed entry, independently from the remaining entries. Even stationarity is not an issue since I believe that the first occurrence within the level set is distributed from the constrained prior.”
This is an interesting point that we had not considered! In practice, and in many papers that apply Nested Sampling with MCMC, the common approach is to start the MCMC at one of the randomly selected “live points”, so the discussion related to independence was in regard to these common implementations.
Regarding starting the chain from outside of the level set. This is likely not done in practice as it introduces an additional difficulty of needing to propose a sample inside the required region (Metropolis–Hastings will have non—zero probability of returning a sample that is still outside the constrained region for any fixed number of iterations). Forcing the continuation of MCMC until a valid point is proposed I believe will be a subtle violation of detailed balance. Of course, the bias of such a modification may be small in practice, but it is an additional awkwardness introduced by the requirement of sample independence!
“And then, in a twist that is not clearly explained in the paper, the focus moves to an improved nested sampler that moves one likelihood value at a time, with a particle step replacing a single  particle. (Things get complicated when several particles may take the very same likelihood value, but randomisation helps.) At this stage the algorithm is quite similar to the original nested sampler. Except for the unbiased estimation of the constants, the  final constant, and the replacement of exponential weights exp(-t/N) by powers of (N-1/N)”
Thanks for pointing out that this isn’t clear, we will try to do better in the next revision! The goal of this part of the paper wasn’t necessarily to propose a new version of nested sampling. Our focus here was to demonstrate that NS–SMC is not simply the Nested Sampling idea with an SMC twist, but that the original NS algorithm with MCMC (and restarting the MCMC sampling at one of the “live points’” as people do in practice) actually is a special case of SMC (with the weights replaced with a suboptimal choice).
The most curious thing is that, as you note, the estimates of remaining prior mass in the SMC context come out as powers of (N-1)/N and not exp(-t/N). In the paper by Walter (2017), he shows that the former choice is actually superior in terms of bias and variance. It was a nice touch that the superior choice of weights came out naturally in the SMC interpretation! 
That said, as the fixed version of NS-SMC is the one with the unbiasedness and consistency properties, this was the version we used in the main statistical examples.